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Amazon is shipping expired food — is it ever safe to eat?

With increasing numbers of Amazon customer complaints about rancid food, it's important to know whether expired food is safe to eat.
/ Source: TODAY

Amazon is filled with millions of third-party vendors and has become essential for busy families needing groceries delivered to their doors, especially since the company acquired Whole Foods. But with the increasing number of foods available, CNBC reported an alarming increase in expired or unfit items as third-party sellers are finding easy ways around the company’s review process.

Throughout the site’s Grocery & Gourmet category, CNBC found customer complaints about expired hot sauce, beef jerky, granola bars, baby formula and baby food, as well as 6-month-old Goldfish crackers and a 360-pack of coffee creamer that arrived with a “rancid smell.” There were several reviews about stale Hot & Spicy Doritos, despite being labeled as an Amazon best-seller.

On Twitter, one customer even posted a photo and claimed Amazon sent a 1-year-old package of Hostess brownies.

So what does all this expired food mean for consumers?

Aside from the obvious disgruntlement that comes with ordering a large package of food from a reputable company like Amazon and finding that everything inside is passed its prime (no pun intended), does the contents need to be trashed?

According to NBC health and nutrition editor Madelyn Fernstrom and Meredith Carothers, a technical information specialist for the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service (a organization under the USDA), it may not have to be.

Fernstrom says the date marked on fresh produce, meat and frozen foods is based on a voluntary labeling system, which is only used to indicate optimal taste and texture. Your food won't harm you if you choose to eat it after its marked date has passed — it just isn't at the peak freshness.

"It's not great to eat spoiled food. [The bacteria] will cause food to have an odor. Mold might start to grow. It could get a slimy texture. It’s unpleasant," Carothers told TODAY Food.

Although bacterias like yeast, fungi or mold that appear when cooked or processed foods go bad might look like something that could make one sick, they are different from food-borne-illness bacterias like salmonella or E.coli and are unlikely to make someone who eats them violently ill.

Surprisingly, the only item that has a hard expiration date is infant formula: If it's stored too long, it may separate and clog the bottle's nipple. Be sure to throw it out if it's expired.

So, while many folks may still want to exchange those stale Doritos to Amazon for a fresh bag — either based on pure principle or because they want the optimal crunch — eating them after the marked expiration date shouldn't actually hurt.